At 51, Yolanda Holtzee has lost none of the zeal she demonstrated decades ago as an investigator in the U.S. Army. As she plays overseas stock markets in the wee hours from her Seattle home, kept company by a swarm of cats, she keeps her sights trained on any suspicious movement in the litany of markets she follows.
"As a hobby, if you want to call it that, whenever I see a situation which I believe securities regulators - whether they're in Canada or the U.S. - need to look into, I make them aware of it," she says. "I do it because I want a cleaner marketplace."
Ms. Holtzee has become a self-designated Wall Street cop, taking on everything from Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. to a financial scandal in Estonia. Her days are now focused on an obscure New York commodities trading firm, Optionable Inc., that is linked to huge losses at Bank of Montreal.
The story behind Optionable piqued Ms. Holtzee's interest after BMO announced on April 27 that it will report commodity-trading losses of up to $450-million this quarter, primarily resulting from positions in natural gas. Nearly one-third of Optionable's revenue came from BMO.
Ms. Holtzee promptly began sending admonishing e-mails at all hours of the night to contacts in her impressive Rolodex of top regulators, as well as lawyers and journalists.
Her main recipients are the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Association of Securities Dealers.
A sample from last week: "Ladies and Gents, it's not cool to have my army of class action attorneys show up first."
Or one from this week: "It's time for us to step up to the plate and show those kiddie cops at the CFTC [Commodity Futures Trading Commission]how to regulate. Please be advised you were made aware of this mess by yours truLEH (me) on the morning of April 27th. That means that when fines are levied and collected, I want a 'the SEC/NASD wishes to thank SEC Chairman 2009 Elect, (Yolanda M. Holtzee), for her assistance in this matter. It will be most gratifying to us to have a Chairman who actually understands commodities related situations.' " While the situation at Optionable and BMO is the subject of her latest crusade, it's certainly not her first.
A front-page article last year in The Wall Street Journal reported that she was sending securities regulators notes about Krispy Kreme Doughnuts months before it was swept up in an accounting scandal in 2004. The same article reported that the SEC brought charges against an Estonian financial firm after acting on a tip about suspicious stock trading from Ms. Holtzee, and credited her with helping regulators track down mutual fund market timers.
Ms. Holtzee is up front about being the instigator of at least one of the class action suits that have been filed against Optionable.
She earns her living managing what she describes as a private investment club, called Alcap LLC. It keeps her up when most of North America is sleeping. "The casinos in Europe open early and the ones in Hong Kong close late," she says with a laugh.
Commodities are her specialty, with the bulk of her investment fund's positions in steel, aluminum and natural gas. She directs traders in Connecticut.
She spent seven years in the U.S. Army, straight out of high school, stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala. It paid 75 per cent of her tuition. While she didn't serve in any combat zones, she spent some time working undercover as an investigator, posing as a recruit to investigate "bad" recruiting offices.
She went on to become a management trainee at Miller Brewing Co.'s can division. In her late 20s, she left to work for Alcan in Oswego, N.Y.
Eventually, she decided to exit Corporate America to trade full time. While she has traded shares of BMO in the past, she says she hasn't had a position in it recently. She says she's never traded Optionable.
Regulators have thanked her for the tip, but have not indicated what they are doing on the matter, she said last week.
The CFTC has repeatedly declined to say whether it has begun an investigation.
Optionable filed an exemption with the CFTC. That means the CFTC does not have "general oversight authority" over it and the National Futures Association has "no regulatory authority over it," according to the two regulators. However, the brokerage is still subject to anti-fraud and anti-manipulation rules governed by the CFTC.
Ms. Holtzee believes regulators "have reason to look into it, and probably are."
Optionable did not respond to repeated requests for comment yesterday.
Close: 47 cents (U.S.), up .045¢ Bank of Montreal Close: $69.50 (Cdn), up 39¢
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